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Thursday, October 07, 2010

Life of Marley

"Fire season" has begun
There was an expression, beginning to fade now from the language: "Life of Riley." Riley was a sitcom character who, my parents told me, always managed to find his way to the hammock; he was used in our family as an example of someone not to emulate. I don't remember the show, though we had television by the time I was four, though pictures of the star, William Bendix, do look familiar to me.

I have noticed that the meaning of the expression as generally used has a different connotation than it did to us; one envisions a certain tone of entitlement. One gets to live the life of Riley if one can afford to, either through money or after a lifetime of hard work. I'm told the usage dates back to nineteenth century Ireland and the O'Reillys, who at one time minted their own coinage.

There has always been a cat, sometimes two, at Stony Run; we've been here long enough to lose two from old age. We're not especially cat people, but circumstances have led to the presence of these moderately standoffish creatures at "barn and hearth" -- mostly hearth. They freeload a lot, and deem their keep paid for by the rare gift of a mouse at the doorstep.

The current cat, Marley, was hard on us at first. She wasn't raised here as a kitten, and she'd had the run of the counters and tabletops in her former home. Cat food was disdained as beneath her. We would find the butter licked and the chicken despoiled at our every turn, and would snatch her from the pancake batter and chuck her out the front door, only to have her muddy the walls, dismantle the window screens and scratch up the panes in her efforts to return to her chosen avocation. Just entering the house at night was difficult for us; Marley would have no truck with the farm after sundown, and would bowl us over to get inside.

We thought of handing her on -- but to whom? It wouldn't be fair to anyone we knew.

But Marley's middle years have arrived. It's getting harder for her to pursue her former prey -- the forbidden bread, quiches and pies of her misspent youth. Yet, at the same time, she's hunting more -- and more effectively. She avoids the barn itself, perhaps thinking the hens will walk up behind her and commence pecking, but she handles rodent traffic in that general direction reasonably well.

The current crop of window screens are unslashed. We do find her on a table from time to time, but we long ago learned to keep the butter covered; and she seems less inclined to lift and toss aside the lid than formerly. Never a lap cat in her youth, she's beginning to take into consideration the advantages of lap-high radiant heating. Winter is a-comin' in, and as the woodstove routine begins, Marley finds her way to the "hammock" of her choice -- Beloved's lap.

Thus have we learned that even those who get a late start can earn enough points to attain a "life of Marley."

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